Helping Kids Deal with Fear

April 1, 2014

Does your child worry unnecessarily? Many kids are overwhelmed by the thought of their life changing and that is why moves, divorce, the birth of a sibling or thought of a new teacher frightens them. It can be painful to see your child struggle with fears, anxieties or worries and not know how to help. Normalize the FeelingIt is important not to discredit your child for feeling the fear. It is most helpful when you normalize it and help him to realize that fear is a normal response to new situations. Mental RehearsalOne of the most helpful things that you can do is help your child to "mentally rehearse" a situation so that they can experience and see the scenario that feels frightening. Sometimes you can show them how you would approach the situation and role play for them how you might handle the circumstance. Other times you might ask a sibling or friend how they could handle the event so that your child can hear a variety of responses. ReframingIf your child is afraid of a change you can help them to brainstorm all the positive things that may come from the change. When they imagine the positives, they are reframing the situation and making it more palatable. If a child is changing schools or moving to a new neighborhood, it is always helpful to visit the area and role model all the conceivable possibilities that can come from a new change. Talking about the new friends, the new parks and swimming pools and the new dance classes helps a child to "look forward" to the potentiality of a situation. Transitional ObjectsChildren need transitional objects to help them move from one transition to the other. Objects can be an important vehicle to keep the child feeling more safe and secure. When I work with kids I encourage them to take a picture of their mom, dad or puppy with them to school and to imagine that they are right there with him. You can let your child know that his feelings are special guides that are teaching him that he needs to build in more security.Children often do better with anchoring which means they can create a ritual that increases a sense of security. Sometimes I encourage the child to take something with him and keep it in his pocket and when he is feeling scared he can rub it and know that the more he rubs it the better he will feel. Emotion RegulationTeach your children that they are in control of their emotions and that they can choose to control their feelings by changing their breathing by slowing down their breaths. This is a simple technique that kids can use to create that sense that they are the masters of their body. The next time they feel scared tell them..."Ok, now we are going to count to slow our bodies down so that we won't feel so worried or scared." Find times when you can model that behavior for them so that they can see that you, too, use the breathing method. Educate Your ChildTell them that they can't feel two feelings at the same time and show them if they can find something to get excited about or to laugh about...they will be moving their worried thoughts away and creating happy thoughts to replace them. Empowering your child is the key to helping them to master their feelings!

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